Town Meeting - May 2nd, 2022
Night three of town meeting, held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/town-meeting/2022-town-meeting-warrant.
(Greg Christiana, Moderator) Mr. Christiana opens with a few remarks on Article 8, which we deliberated during the last session. He received feedback that several town meeting members weren't clear about what they were voting on. Going forward, Mr. Christiana says he'll be better about asking people to clarify what their amendments do. He also hopes that town meeting members have read the material and amendments before it's time to vote on them.
There's one new town meeting member who needs to be sworn in.
Article 3 - Reports
(Jeff Thielman) Mr. Thielman submits the Arlington High School Building Committee Report. There were tours of the new high school wings last Saturday, and more than 2000 people turned out to take them. The project is on budget and on schedule, and the average tax increase to residents will be approximately $100/year less than expected. Their contracts locked the prices in, and the construction wasn't affected by pandemic-related costs. The STEAM wing opened in April. The central spine and humanitarian wing will be built in phase two, and they should by ready to open in September 2023.
(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe submits the Community Preservation Act Committee report.
Article 9 - Achieving Net Zero Green House Gas Emissions from Town Facilities
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christian says that Article 9 has a recommended vote of no action, but was removed from the Consent Agenda. Mr. Christiana notes that John Worden asked to have the article removed, and he asks if Mr. Worden has a substitute motion.
(John Worden) Mr. Worden says he doesn't believe that he was the one who asked to have the article removed.
There's a unanimous vote in favor of the recommended vote of no action.
Article 10 - Tree Preservation and Protection
This article would make updates to Arlington's tree protection bylaw.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps introduces herself as a member of the tree committee. The tree committee was created in 2010 and passed our tree protection bylaw in 2016. The bylaw applies to protected trees of 8" diameter or more in yard setbacks during major construction. When there's a construction project with protected trees on the property, the owners have to submit a tree plan showing which trees are present, which will be removed, and how existing trees will be protected during construction. The town charges a fee of $375/inch for each protected tree that's removed during construction and that money goes into the tree fund.
Ms. Stamps outlines four changes in the article: clarifying the definition of "demolition", increasing the number of protected trees, requirements for tree plans, and making builders more accountable. The size of a protected tree will be reduced from 8" diameter to 6" diameter. Tree plans must be created by an arborist or landscape architect, and builders must sign an affidavit stating that they are aware of the tree bylaw.
(Janice Weber) Ms. Weber wants to know if she has to get in touch with the tree committee about taking down a tree that might fall on her house.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says the bylaw only applies to construction.
(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber says there has been a lot of discussion about Article 38 and demolition. She thinks this article will protect trees during demolition.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says yes, and it will protect a wider variety of trees.
(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber says its interesting to think about warrant articles in conjunction with one another. She says this article might help with others.
(Michaela May Klughaupt) Ms. May Klughaupt moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes, 206--26--2.
Article passes, 222--10--2.
Article 11 - Domestic Partnerships
This article would change the provisions of Arlington's domestic partnership bylaw.
(Elizabeth Dray, Point of Order) Ms. Dray notes there was an opinion letter about Article 11 attached to the annotated warrant. Ms. Dray asks the moderator if he can show or explain the policy on what is allowed to be posted.
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana acknowledges that the policy hasn't been super-precise, but he will post one.
(Len Diggins, Select Board Chair) Mr. Diggins says the Select Board voted to recommend favorable action on this article, 5--0. They support the expansion of rights given to non-traditional relationships. He understands there might be some financial implications, but doesn't feel the concerns of abuse outweigh the benefits to granting rights.
(Susan Ryan-Vollmar) Ms. Ryan-Vollmar is co-chair of the Rainbow Commission. She says Arlington should be proud of being the first town in Massachusetts to allow polyamorous relationships. The push to legalize domestic partnerships goes back to the 1980s and the AIDS pandemic. The first requirement for hospital visitation rights is an official relationship. With these changes, a polyamorous relationship won't be dissolved if one person dies. It adds a section on employee benefits and won't affect the number of days allowed for bereavement. So far, there have been three domestic partnerships registered in town, and none of them involve town employees.
In the 1990s some of the fear around non-traditional relationships came out of Boston City Council meetings -- over concerns that people would say they were in a gay relationship in order to get health benefits. People whose relationships aren't recognized pay financial and emotional hardships. Town meeting shouldn't have power over relationships. Ms. Ryan-Vollmar asks the meeting to deny the Moore amendment. She believes it comes from good intention, but believes it's rooted in homophobia.
(Mark Kaepplein, Point of order) Mr. Kaepplein says he was first in the speaking queue, but then disappeared.
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana asks staff to look at that.
(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore has an amendment to the article. He says we're not talking about rights; we're talking about benefits. He feels the definition of domestic partnership is significantly changed by removing the requirements for the partners to live together and share expenses. He says that marriages are limited to two people, and you can only be involved in one marriage at a time. This bylaw allows unlimited size partnerships, or partnership networks, where the number of birth leaves is only limited to the creative ideas of those involved. His amendment would restore the requirement for partners to live together and share expenses. He thinks this will limit abuse.
(Amos Meeks) Mr. Meeks says he's a scientist, and he tries to bring that analytical ethos to town meeting. He thinks the push-back against this article is driven by fear-mongering. The Moore amendment suggests denying partnerships because some town employee would abuse paid vacation time. The letter from Ms. Stamps and Ms. Mann advocates voting against this article out of fear that employers will turn away people in domestic partnerships. Mr. Meeks feels like this is fear of an outcome, with no rational example.
Mr. Meeks says he's had to live in fear because of his relationship, and in coming out to several hundred town meeting members last year to introduce the domestic partnership bylaw. He expected to live his life in a closet but was in a position to help his friends and his family. He extends an open invitation to anyone who'd like to join him for tea in his backyard, and talk with him and his family.
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana asks speakers to be mindful and respectful of the broad set of viewpoints on this issue.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Newton asks if there's any possible way domestic partnerships might put marriage equality laws at risk.
(Susan Ryan-Vollmar) Ms. Ryan-Vollmar says she spoke with Mary Benato, who was the attorney for the case were Massachusetts allowed same-sex marriage. She pointed out that federal case law pre-empts state law, but she didn't believe this would affect marriage equality. She notes that the article will be reviewed by the Attorney General's office, and any invalid sections will be struck.
(Sanjay Newton) Mr. Moore says he'll vote against the Moore amendment, and for the main article.
(Al Tosti) Mr. Tosti said we brought a domestic partnership bylaw to town meeting, and town meeting expanded the definition to three people. This is a whole new rewrite. Mr. Tosti thinks the article's title should be changed from "domestic partnership" to "anything goes"; there's nothing domestic about it. He says this establishes a pattern for public benefits and Mr. Tosti guarantees that health care will be next. He thinks it guts the definition of who qualifies for public benefits and asks town meeting to reject it.
(Laura Gittleson) Ms. Gittleson asks what benefits would be conferred if this article passed without amendment.
(Susan Ryan-Vollmar) Ms. Ryan-Vollmar says the vast number of employees don't create additional costs by taking sick leave. She says the number of days is dictated by state and federal law.
(Laura Gittleson) Ms. Gittleson asks if this is worth the fear mongering, if the only thing that can be counted on is hospital visits.
(Susan Ryan-Vollmar) Ms. Ryan-Vollmar says that benefits for domestic partnerships are scant. As someone who's had hospital visits denied, she thinks it's a benefit worth having.
(Laura Gittleson) Ms. Gittleson plans to vote against the Moore amendment and for the main article. She thinks Mr. Tosti was cherry picking the definition of domestic, and that this article is about family.
(Gordon Jamieson, Point of Order) Mr. Jamieson asks that speakers introduce themselves with their name and precinct, and notes that the moderator gets to choose who responds to each question.
(Susan Stamps, Point of Order) Ms. Stamps says the domestic partnership bylaw already gives visitation rights.
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says that's not a point of order.
(Anna Henkin) Ms. Henkin supports this bylaw without amendment. She notes that marriages don't require people to reside together indefinitely, and that younger couples aren't always able to live together. They might work in different cities, one might be in the military, or they might just be bad roommates. She says the arguments against this article remind her of the mythical welfare queen who was supposed to be living a life of luxury while on food stamps. She thinks this will ensure that people have the ability to take care of the ones that they love.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett objects to speakers who demonize those who disagree with them. Being accused of fear mongering is insulting. He asks what hospital visitation rights are, and where they apply.
(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says there is a reciprocity provision, but it's not 100% clear. Rights under domestic partnerships can be applied in other municipalities with reciprocity. He's not sure if they would apply across state lines.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says this article removes the requirement that domestic partners not be married. He asks if this could violate polygamy laws.
(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says not necessarily. He says the state doesn't recognize domestic partnerships as being the same as marriage, and our local bylaws can't re-define what marriage is. He thinks domestic partnerships and marriages can be contemplated without polygamy.
(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says he's proud to have a domestic partnership bylaw, but he stands against this article in its entirety. He thinks it will violate polygamy laws.
(Emily Zhu) Ms. Zhu sees two angles here: what could go wrong, and what could go right. Cambridge's domestic partnership bylaw doesn't require people to live together and share expenses, and she thinks the likelihood of abuse is very low. The limit on child leave is not per child, and we'd support someone in a traditional marriage who wanted to have many kids. Now, what could go right. She says the benefits are tangible and meaningful to the people they apply to. She's in support.
(Nora Mann) Ms. Mann opposes the article. She's a lawyer and worked for many years as a regulator. She says the choice to embark on a polyamorous relationship is a choice, and that no one is looking for power over Mr. Meeks's relationship. The issue is the way regulation is being used. She says there's a firm basis for extending rights but she's not convinced that polygamy meets the standard for protected status. This might turn supportive employers against domestic partnerships. She's done research on polygamy; there's support for it, which is good. But, seeking rights based on broad and vague definitions is not appropriate.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley asks if people applying for a domestic partnership license all have to show up at the town clerk's office at the same time.
Mr. Trembley appears to be having some trouble with his computer. He's unable to hear what people are saying.
(David Levy) Mr. Levy moves the question.
(Sarah McKinnon, Point of Order) Ms. McKinnon asks whether we're voting to terminate debate, or on the article.
(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says we're voting on whether to terminate debate.
The motion to terminate fails, 150--86--1 (two-thirds vote required).
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps is coming at this article as an attorney. She resents being called a fear mongerer, and also had a discussion with Mr. Meeks. When Ms. Ryan-Vollmar explained this article, she left out two main things: the ways in which domestic partnerships would be expanded. It would expand the definition to allow people to be in several domestic partnership, and to include people who are already married. The idea has been to afford some of the benefits of marriage to people in domestic partnerships, but this would create rights that married people don't have. She asks if that understanding is correct.
(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says that's correct, rights would be expanded in the manner described.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps asks if the existing bylaw extends the rights of hospital visitation and prison visitation.
(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim answers in the affirmative.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says she's supportive of gay marriage, but this isn't about marriage. She doesn't know how people can be in multiple marriage-like relationships and she believes this will eventually raise the issue of benefits. The Polyamorous Legal Advocacy Coalition says that they want domestic partnerships to end up with all of the rights of marriage.
(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray has a question about choice. She asks if this is a choice, and not akin to other protected classes.
(Susan Ryan-Vollmar) Ms. Ryan-Vollmar thinks the assertion that domestic partnerships are trying to be treated as a protected class is a red herring.
(Elizabeth Dray) Regarding opening a Pandora's box, she asks if Cambridge and Somerville have experienced any kind of fraud or employer push-back from their domestic partnership laws.
(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim doesn't know the answer.
(Amos Meeks) Mr. Meeks says he doesn't know directly; he'd have to reach out to city clerks there.
(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray asks why reciprocity is important.
(Doug Heim) Mr. Heim says the idea is that the rights and status recognized in Arlington would be recognized in another municipality. You'd hope that another jurisdiction would recognize your rights.
(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray supports the original motion.
(Xavid Pretzer) Mx. Pretzer has been in a domestic partnership. They're proud to see Arlington leading the way, and believes this article will help us to continue that. Their work sent them abroad for six months, so it's important for people in that situation not to have their domestic partnerships called into question. Regarding the concerns over fraud and false pretenses, Mx. Pretzer thinks it's unlikely in practice and we shouldn't restrict rights on the basis of that. They also think reciprocity is very important, and they support the main motion.
(Ed Trembley) Mr. Trembley has worked out his audio issues. He repeats his earlier question: when people apply for a domestic partnership license, do they all have to show up at the clerk's office at the same time?
(Juli Brazile, Town Clerk) Ms. Brazile says yes, they all have to show up in person and show ID, the same as couples who are applying for marriage licenses.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein says that last time, he learned that equity was like equal, but a domestic partnership is a partnership without the domestic part. He objects to the abuse of language. He says we used to have communes, which was okay. He thinks this should be called "friends with benefits" or just "friendships". Mr. Heim says that Arlington can't redefine marriage, but here we're redefining domestic partnership. He thinks domestic partner means friend, and partnership means friendship. He says there are benefits to having friends, or living in a commune, but he's against this article.
(Melanie Brown) Ms. Brown says the debate has been deep and interesting. We're talking about how people define their families. She says her grandmother in-law was married for 50 years, but didn't live with her grandfather. Being separated allowed their relationship to flourish, and their marriage was recognized as legitimate. She says this is what we're talking about with domestic partnerships. This protection would allow someone to visit their partner in a hospital in Cambridge or Somerville. She'll vote in favor.
(Mark Rosenthal) Mr. Rosenthal recalls Mr. Meeks's statements about living in a world of science. Mr. Rosenthal says he lives in a world of science too. Accusations of fear mongering don't sit well with him. He believes in a world of equal treatment, which means equal rights and equal responsibilities. State law says married couples are legally responsible for their spouses, but members of domestic partnerships won't have that responsibility.
(Dan Dunn) Mr. Dunn says he supports these families. Gender and love are complex. If there's fraud, we can come back and amend the bylaw.
(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes, 204--28--2.
Vote on the Moore amendment fails, 59--171--9.
(Janice Weber, Point of order) Ms. Weber says her voting screen is frozen, but she called her vote into the clerk.
Vote on the article passes, 162--68--9.
(John Worden, Point of Order) Mr. Worden asks if the moderator could announce the vote totals; he's having trouble reading them on the screen.
There are no motions of reconsideration.
Meeting adjourned until Wednesday 8:00 pm.